TV review: Unforgotten

I have watched all three seasons of this British police procedural TV series. Each season has a self-contained story and consists of six episodes spread over 4.5 hours and is one of the best of such shows that I have seen. I fancy myself as a connoisseur of such detective shows and like most connoisseurs have strong likes and dislikes. I heartily dislike violence and gore and find action sequences such as chases and fights to be boring. They seem to me to be a cheap way of generating interest to compensate for weak plots and poor writing, acting, and directing. I like shows where the focus is on the process of detection and this show definitely fits the bill.

I also dislike shows where the detectives are highly quirky, because they quickly become tiresome. For example, I watched a few episodes of the highly acclaimed detective show Monk but found his mannerisms (he is an obsessive-compulsive germophobe) to be so highly irritating that I could not go on. Many detectives like Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, and Hercule Poirot are quirky and skirt close to the edge of being so annoying that I give up on them.

I also dislike the odd-couple pairing of the main detective and assistant, where they are two extremes or have either strong antagonistic stances or a romantic attraction. The lives of the detectives should not be the main source of drama. I also dislike stories where the detectives’ families play an outsize role and particularly detest shows where they actually get involved in the investigations or, even worse, are suspects. The families should be in the background as a way of filling in the detectives’ characters or for expository purposes or to provide some humor.

All this explains why I like Unforgettable so much. It features excellent ensemble acting with Nicola Walker as the lead detective and Sanjeev Bhaskar as her assistant and they both lead a team of competent professionals who go about their work methodically and without any fuss. Their team investigates very cold cases, usually when the remains of a body are found decades after the murder. I like one feature where, after questioning a character, Walker and Bhaskar discuss whether they think the person was telling the truth and why.

The storyline begins with following various people whose lives seem to be unconnected to one another but as the story evolves we see that their lives intersected at the time of the murder and they become disconcerted as they find that something that had happened long ago and had been thought a closed chapter suddenly becomes open again. We see the painstaking work that goes into identifying the victim and trying to piece together what happened long after the fact. The writers avoid what has become a cliché of the genre, where a casual remark by someone causes the brilliant detective to have a flash of insight in which everything falls into place and the mystery is solved. Also junior members of the team contribute important information and insights, making it truly a team effort.

The story is told without any action or glitz or violence and stated that way it sounds boring but it is not. It is utterly gripping. The writers also forego the common detective story trope of springing a complete surprise ending on the viewer. That effort requires other characters to behave in implausible ways so as to draw attention to themselves and divert attention from the actual criminal until the final denouement. In these stories, the truth is slowly uncovered so that the final revelation is not shocking but satisfying nonetheless.

In the third season, they also look at the poisonous effects of online culture where people, for the sake of garnering ‘likes’ and hits and fame, inflame the situation by wild speculations, leveling accusations against people and creating a ‘public enemy’ mindset, instigating vigilante violence against those are fingered as the criminal without any real evidence. This is unfortunately a very real phenomenon.

Here is the trailer to season three.


  1. Jazzlet says

    The writing is good, the ensemble is good and the two leads are brilliant. A fourth series has been announced.

  2. says


    I might try it, but I hold shows with predominantly masculinely gendered cast to a higher standard, just because there are more of them. With 5 of the actors in the promo materials appearing likely to be men, this show will simply have a higher hurdle to sustain my interest. It’s not at all impossible, I watch men-dominated shows all the time, but I try to keep them to 50% of my shows, and since they have more competition than the shows with equality between men and women or the shows that have predominantly women in the cast …

    @Mano: Have you ever watched the “Miss Fischer” series? It might be annoying to you as a number of the characters are “quirky”, but I personally found it delightful.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Crip Dyke,

    This particular third series had four boyhood friends being central to the plot, though there are plenty of women in the show. But the other two series that I saw were not as male-dominated.

    I did watch an episode or two of Miss Fischer but it was not to my taste.

  4. Jazzlet says

    Crip Dyke
    Mano is correct that the third series has four boyhood friends as the suspects, but one had two women and a man, I can’t remember the balance in the other series. It is refreshing to my mind in that in two of the series the victim is male, and in the one where the victim is female there is no gratuitous lingering over the beautiful dead body or scenes with the perpetrator recalling the crime in ‘titillating’ detail.

    The show is much more serious than “Miss Fischer”

  5. Jazzlet says

    Have you watched Vera? It might well be to your taste if you enjoyed Unforgotten.

  6. Mano Singham says


    I had not even heard of Vera. I’ll see what I can find. Thanks!

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    Seconding Vera. Brenda Blethyn is superb. And her Northeastern accent is (to my long-expatriate ear) very convincing. Which reminds me that Inspector George Gently (set in roughly the same region, but with the main character from London, and set in the sixties) is also very good.

  8. zackoz says

    Seconding (or thirding) Vera. The characters are realistically human, including Vera herself, whose faults as well as virtues are on display, and the stories are not too unlikely. I find the accent a bit hard to pick up at times, though.

    Yes, I liked George Gently too, also the series where the same actor was a judge (Judge Deed, I think). On the whole I prefer the English police series to US ones, largely because the English police aren’t always pulling guns all the time. Thanks for the tip about Unforgotten, I hadn’t seen that and I’ll look for it. Another one I like is New Tricks.

  9. Mano Singham says


    When the accents become so strong (such as in Shetland or Hinterland) as to make me not able to follow sufficiently, I turn on the subtitles. It seems like cheating since the shows are in English but doing so prevents me from straining to understand and constantly having to loop back to listen again.

  10. Jazzlet says

    I liked George Gently too. I can’t comment on how difficult the accents for both that and Vera are as although I’m originally a southerner I’ve lived in the north for decades and my BiL is a Geordie so I have a head start.

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    I usually don’t have much trouble understanding Anglophone accents/dialects. In large part, I think that’s because people (including people who make films and TV shows) tend to adjust language when their audience consists largely of “outlanders”. But listening to people from certain places talk among themselves can be baffling; Glasgow, Jamaica, and Newfoundland, for example. That’s not too surprising…

    But it was a somewhat humbling experience when we were visited (in Canada), some years ago, by the son of a family friend (A) and his mate (B). I had no trouble understanding A; like him, I had grown up in Leeds. But I could only understand about half of what B said. He was from a small town a few miles from Leeds.

  12. fentex says

    I watched the first series of Unforgotten on Mano’s recommendation last weekend -- and it was very good.

    However it has a bit of a twist that I don’t think Mano noticed (and I’m sure plenty of people will tell me wasn’t really there, but I’ll argue my position) -- the cops got it wrong.

    They were right the first time as to who the murderer was and wrong to believe his story (which I predicted he’d try before he did) -- the polices theory was better than his story and more accurately fitted the evidence).

    Plus also I’m a little upset the editors lied to the audience -- several times the audience is shown the priest remembering a violent event featuring the victim Jimmy -- but that played no part in the resolution of his storyline (which featured and failed to explain any violent events).

    In the end I think they rushed the last episode and mis-timed the pacing -- for the story to be properly completed the extra-evidence the DCI exaplined they expecyted to find corroborating their suspects story should have been presented and not assummed.

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